Analysis Of Senate Bailout Bill – To Be Considered By House On Thursday

The voting on the Senate Version of the Bailout Bill has not started 08:56 PM (est) – but it is expected to be passed and sent to the House where an up or down vote will be required. The last word is that the House will not be given an opportunity to amend or change the bill.

After reviewing all 451 pages of the bill – I’m very surprised – minimal changes were made to the Bill that the House of Representatives defeated two days ago. Very minimal. The additional 331 pages concern completely unrelated items.

The Senate included these unrelated bills in this package to provide “cover” for those Congresspeople  who intend to vote for the passage of the Bailout, but are looking for an excuse to justify their vote. You can expect to hear this spin tomorrow, “Oh I didn’t really support the Bailout, I was voting for – fill in the blank – instead”.

The following items have been included for passage with the “Bailout Bill” when there was no impending emergency that required the items to be passed in the late evening of October 1st,  2008:

Pages 113 –  165  ENERGY SECTION: Energy Tax Credits, Steel Industry Fuel Credits, Carbon Mitigation Credits, Coal Gasification Credits, Black Lung Funding.

Why are these items attached to the “Bailout”, so a Congressperson can tell their irate Constituent, I didn’t really vote for the “Bailout”, I voted for Energy Tax Credits or Black Lung Funding – Of course we know better.

Page 254 – Information Authorization for Covered Securities to Brokers – I’ll bet you had no idea that this was a topic that required immediate attention. I’ll bet that 80 of 100 Senators didn’t know this was an emergency either.

Pages 261 -266  Temporary Relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax. I’d like to see the Alternative Minimum Tax eliminated, however, this section should not be attached to this bill. I can hear the Congressperson now – I was really against the Bailout – but I was voting to end the Alternative Minimum Tax – for a time. If your Congressperson says this, ask them why they didn’t pass this legislation in September?

Page 279 – Rum Excise Tax Relief for Peurto Rico – Ok, truth be told, I’m all for tax relief on adult beverages – but did it really need to be attached to the “Bailout”.

Page 280 – Funding for Mine Rescue Training

Page 288 – Depreciation of Business Property on Indian Reservations (The actual Bill language – I thought our Native Americans were Native Americans and not Indians).

Page 289 – Railroad Track Maintenance

Page 290 – Cost Recovery for Motor Sport Racing Tracks

Page 295 – Duty Suspension on Wool Products

Page 297 – Child Tax Credit Extension – We all favor this – How many Congress people will hide behind this one. The question to ask is this – Couldn’t you vote this through on Thursday and not attach it to this stinker of a Bill. It will be represented and passed if the House Votes the Bailout Bill down again on Thursday Night.

PAGE 298 – Film and TV Production Tax Credits – Limits taxes to the first $15 Million of production costs. (On a $100 Million Dollar Movie – The last $85 Million are tax free. No wonder Hollywood is far left – it pays for them to be there). 

Page 300 – Excise Tax Break for Wooden Arrows used by Children.

Page 301 – Exxon Valdez Llitigation Income Averaging.

Page 310 – 334 Domenici Mental Health Bill – This bill has been debated for 10 years. I will not discuss the merits of the proposal, however, the cost to the American Public might exceed a trillion dollars. After 10 years of debate this bill should have been brought up independent of any other bill. Senator Domenici, the sponsor, is retiring at the end of this term.  

Page 334 – Secure Rural Schools

Page 364 – Special Projects Federal Land

Page 394  – Hurricane Ike Relief

Page 442 – Spending Reductions and Revenue Raisers to Support Tax Relief – I love this Sections name. It reminds me of an earlier life. We called them K-Rats, I believe they are called Meals Ready To Eat now. Now you get three lies, for the price of one. (Actually, MRE’s are much better than Krats ever were).

Now as to the “improvements to the Bailout Bill” that the House defeated. The changes are nothing more than window dressing.

1). Mark to Market – whether you like it or don’t like it – there is no mandated change. There is no specific rule change in this law. The language is identical to the defeated House BIll.

2). FDIC Increase in insured deposit limit from $100,000 to $250,000 – A purely cosmetic change. The “Bailout Supporters” claim it calms the markets. It may calm someone who doesn’t understand that individuals have either placed their money in separate accounts or used one of the “services” that have been available for 3 or 4 years to distribute funds between different banks so that all of a depositors money has always been insured. As far as helping liquidity – the change is irrelevant.

This provision may actually be a tax increase in disguise: Read the Myth of the FDIC Fund, By Bill Isaac, Former FDIC Chairman Here: https://mcauleysworld.wordpress.com/2008/10/02/fdic-insurance-an-accounting-myth-not-a-fund-bill-isaac-former-fdic-ch/

3). Additional oversight – minimal changes.

4). Executive Compensation (pg 30) is essentially unchanged – covers current but not past CEO’s and Executives. Only covers Executives from Companies who participate in the asset sale to the Government. Political claims that this provision covers all Wall Street Executives is false. Most Wall Street Executives won’t be involved in the Program.

Golder Parachutes are eliminated – in participating Companies – for 2 years (that 2 year limitation is found on page 112, 82 pages away from the main section on Executive Compensation). Gee, my bet is that no one is going to qualify for a Golden Parachute in the next two years – but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s Parachute opened in two years and one day.    

5) Mortgage Relief – Assistance – Modification: No Change here. The language is unchanged. The Government picks the winners and losers. While not completely defined – the Bailout only provides help to those homeowners who have a mortgage with a failed bank or lending institution. If the bank that holds your mortgage is not participating in the bailout – this plan provides no help.  

6). Fixing what got us here. Suspending the operations of the Communirty Reinvestmant Authority (The CRA is the agency that fostered the development of NINJA & LIAR Loans) removing the Boston Federal Reserve Manual on Mortgage Underwritng Reform from use (The Manual that set the standards for the worst of the sub-prime loans – the Manual that was used to coerce Banks into making these loans) or implementing  the 2003-2004 suggested Accounting and Oversight Reforms for Fannie and Freddie are not even discussed in the Senate Bill.  

The Bailout Supporters claim the “Bailout” will create easier credit (easy money) and improve the economy. They also claim that the “Bailout” will help liquidity. I wonder where that liquidity or money will flow to – the same scams that caused this problem in the first place?

The Senate Bill fails to reduce the burden on Taxpayors – there is no increased use of Insurance or Loan Programs. 

For those of you who are familiar with Dave Ramsey’s Suggested “Fix” – they have failed to adopt any of his suggestions.  

My estimate is that the current “Bailout Program” has an initial “buy-in” cost of $850 Billion Dollars – just for the “Bailout” (Not including Mental Health – etc). Not all of this tax payor cash is to be paid out up front. Of course there is no guarantee that the Government won’t be back for more once we start down this road.

CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE AND LET HIM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL – TELL THEM TO VOTE NO ON THE BAILOUT – 

Contact Your Senators Here:  http://www.emailyoursenator.com/senators.html  Click on your Senators, Select the Contact Folder and then  click on the email address.

Contact Congresspeople: http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html You’ll need your zip  code

I reviewed a copy of the Senate Bailout Bill through the FOX Business Channel Web Site:  http://www.foxbusiness.com/story/markets/economy/senate-version-economic-rescue-package/

Tommorows Post: What is wrong with tighter Credit? – Credit Availablity In America Today.

Dave Ramsey’s Common Sense Fix For The Bailout

While I’m still opposed to a “Bailout” – I’d like to see the following items added to any “Bailout Package” presented for a vote:

1) Suspend the operation of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The Act that fostered the development of the NINJA and LIAR Loans. No more NINJA or LIAR Loans.

2). Remove the Boston Federal Reserve Manual from use. Reverse the changes made in mortgage  underwriting standards by this Manual. This is the manual that was used to coerce Banks into making the worst of the sub-prime loans.

3). Implement the proposed 2003-2004 Accounting and Oversight Provisions for Fannie & Freddie that were blocked. Are there Congresspeople who would stand up today and say – “There is no problem with Fannie or Freddie” ?

These suggestions do not require an outlay of taxpayor cash.

Lets correct the problem before we try to clean up the mess.

DAVE RAMSEYS COMMON SENSE FIX

Years of bad decisions and stupid mistakes have created an economic nightmare in this country, but $700 billion in new debt is not the answer.

As a tax-paying American citizen, I will not support any congressperson who votes to implement such a policy. Instead, I submit the following three steps:

Common Sense Plan.

I. INSURANCE

A. Insure the subprime bonds/mortgages with an underlying FHA-type insurance. Government-insured and backed loans would have an instant market all over the world, creating immediate and needed liquidity.

B. In order for a company to accept the government-backed insurance, they must do two things:

1. Rewrite any mortgage that is more than three months delinquent to a 6% fixed-rate mortgage.

a. Roll all back payments with no late fees or legal costs into the balance. This brings homeowners current and allows them a chance to keep their homes.

b. Cancel all prepayment penalties to encourage refinancing or the sale of the property to pay off the bad loan. In the event of foreclosure or short sale, the borrower will not be held liable for any deficit balance. FHA does this now, and that encourages mortgage companies to go the extra mile while working with the borrower—again limiting foreclosures and ruined lives.

2. Cancel ALL golden parachutes of EXISTING and FUTURE CEOs and executive team members as long as the company holds these government-insured bonds/mortgages. This keeps underperforming executives from being paid when they don’t do their jobs.

C. This backstop will cost less than $50 billion—a small fraction of the current proposal.

II. MARK TO MARKET

A. Remove mark to market accounting rules for two years on only subprime Tier III bonds/mortgages. This keeps companies from being forced to artificially mark down bonds/mortgages below the value of the underlying mortgages and real estate.

B. This move creates patience in the market and has an immediate stabilizing effect on failing and ailing banks—and it costs the taxpayer nothing.

III. CAPITAL GAINS TAX

A. Remove the capital gains tax completely. Investors will flood the real estate and stock market in search of tax-free profits, creating tremendous—and immediate—liquidity in the markets. Again, this costs the taxpayer nothing.

B. This move will be seen as a lightning rod politically because many will say it is helping the rich. The truth is the rich will benefit, but it will be their money that stimulates the economy.

This will enable all Americans to have more stable jobs and retirement investments that go up instead of down.

This is not a time for envy, and it’s not a time for politics. It’s time for all of us, as Americans, to stand up, speak out, and fix this mess.

http://www.daveramsey.com/common_sense_fix.txt

Read Ramsey’s Article Here: http://www.daveramsey.com/etc/fed_bailout/3_steps_to_change_the_nations_future_10928.htmlc?ictid=sptlt

Bailout “Plan B” – Three Steps That Won’t Cost Taxpayers A Dime

Here are my first three items for inclusion in any “Bailout” package – I believe they are the first 3 things that Congress should do – things that will stop us from continuing down the same road that got us here in the first place. 

1) Suspend the operation of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The Act that fostered the development of the NINJA and LIAR Loans. No more NINJA or LIAR Loans.

2). Remove the Boston Federal Reserve Manual from use. Reverse the changes made in mortgage  underwriting standards by this Manual. This is the manual that was used to coerce Banks into making the worst of the sub-prime loans.

3). Implement the proposed 2003-2004 Accounting and Oversight Provisions for Fannie & Freddie that were blocked. Are there Congresspeople who would stand up today and say – “There is no problem with Fannie or Freddie” ?

These suggestions do not require an outlay of taxpayor cash.

Lets correct the problem before we try to clean up the mess.

The following is Dave Ramsey’s Common Sense Fix for the Financial Crisis. Mr. Ramsey is a Nationally Syndicated Radio Show Host & Fox Business Channel Host. Watch his show at 8 PM (EST) on the Fox Business Channel (Not the FOX NEWS CHANNEL). The Bailout will be the topic of discussion tonight.

DAVE RAMSEYS COMMON SENSE FIX

Years of bad decisions and stupid mistakes have created an economic nightmare in this country, but $700 billion in new debt is not the answer.

As a tax-paying American citizen, I will not support any congressperson who votes to implement such a policy. Instead, I submit the following three steps:

Common Sense Plan.

I. INSURANCE

A. Insure the subprime bonds/mortgages with an underlying FHA-type insurance. Government-insured and backed loans would have an instant market all over the world, creating immediate and needed liquidity.

B. In order for a company to accept the government-backed insurance, they must do two things:

1. Rewrite any mortgage that is more than three months delinquent to a 6% fixed-rate mortgage.

a. Roll all back payments with no late fees or legal costs into the balance. This brings homeowners current and allows them a chance to keep their homes.

b. Cancel all prepayment penalties to encourage refinancing or the sale of the property to pay off the bad loan. In the event of foreclosure or short sale, the borrower will not be held liable for any deficit balance. FHA does this now, and that encourages mortgage companies to go the extra mile while working with the borrower—again limiting foreclosures and ruined lives.

2. Cancel ALL golden parachutes of EXISTING and FUTURE CEOs and executive team members as long as the company holds these government-insured bonds/mortgages. This keeps underperforming executives from being paid when they don’t do their jobs.

C. This backstop will cost less than $50 billion—a small fraction of the current proposal.

II. MARK TO MARKET

A. Remove mark to market accounting rules for two years on only subprime Tier III bonds/mortgages. This keeps companies from being forced to artificially mark down bonds/mortgages below the value of the underlying mortgages and real estate.

B. This move creates patience in the market and has an immediate stabilizing effect on failing and ailing banks—and it costs the taxpayer nothing.

III. CAPITAL GAINS TAX

A. Remove the capital gains tax completely. Investors will flood the real estate and stock market in search of tax-free profits, creating tremendous—and immediate—liquidity in the markets. Again, this costs the taxpayer nothing.

B. This move will be seen as a lightning rod politically because many will say it is helping the rich. The truth is the rich will benefit, but it will be their money that stimulates the economy.

This will enable all Americans to have more stable jobs and retirement investments that go up instead of down.

This is not a time for envy, and it’s not a time for politics. It’s time for all of us, as Americans, to stand up, speak out, and fix this mess.

http://www.daveramsey.com/common_sense_fix.txt

Read Ramsey’s Article Here: http://www.daveramsey.com/etc/fed_bailout/3_steps_to_change_the_nations_future_10928.htmlc?ictid=sptlt

TELL WASHINGTON WE WANT A BETTER DEAL – NOT THE OLD DEAL WITH A NEW NAME.  

 

The following Articles describe the role of “political ideology” in the Financial Crisis – How Politics fueled the crisis:
Professor Thomas J DiLorenzo: The CRA Scam and its Defenders: http://www.mises.org/story/2963
John R Lott, Jr : Analysis – Reckless Mortgages Brought Financial Market To Its Knees http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,424945,00.html

COMMITTEE TESTIMONY – HOW THE REGULATION REFORM OF FANNIE AND FREDDIE WAS BLOCKED

 

  

Democratic Speaker Pelosi – Republican Opposition is Unpatriotic – Exposes Dem Deal Lie

PELOSI CONFIRMS HOUSE REPUBLICAN BOYCOTT – A BOYCOTT McCAIN BROUGHT TO AN END – EXPOSES DEMOCRATIC LIES ABOUT NEGOTIATIONS 

How can you believe anything that comes out of Democrat’s mouth these days. No wonder the old joke has been around so long – How can you tell when a Democratic Politician is lying – their lips are moving.

Earlier this weekend the Democrats rushed to the podium and announced to the Press “WE HAVE A DEAL”. That proclamation was a “bold face lie“.

Then the Democrats claimed – McCain “blew-up” the non-existent agreement – a lie upon a lie.

The fact that the Republican House was boycotting the negotiations went nearly unreported. The Democratic Spin was the third lie – Democrats claimed the hold up hand something to do with “Executive Compensation” and “John McCain”.  The truth – the Congressional Republican Caucus challenged Democratic attempts to flood the Bailout with additional spending and, how dare they, question whether the Paulson Bailout Plan, was in the best interests of the American Public. Should $700 Billion of Main Street’s Money be spent on Wall Street? How dare the Republicans ask that question?    

Late Friday night Democratic Congressman Barney Frank exposed the Democratic lie when he acknowledged that the House Republicans were Boycotting negotiations and had been boycotting the negotiations for days before McCain arrived back in Washington. McCain’s trip to Washington highlighted the boycott and changed the basic nature of negotiations. How could the Democrats dare to claim an “agreement” when the House Republicans were not even participating in the negotiations –

Today Pelosi confirmed the Republican Congressional Boycott and while doing so confirmed her lies concerning “A DEAL” this past Friday. Pelosi condemned the Repubican’s for boycotting the earlier negotiations and called the Republicans “unpatriotic” for looking out for the American tax payors while they challenged “The Paulson Bailout”.

Pelosi shouldn’t count her chickens before they hatch – the House Republicans have not committed to vote for the current proposal – in fact the final language is just being drafted as this post is being typed,

Contact Senator Pelosi and let her know what you think about her “un-patriotic” claim –

Contact your Congressperson and Senator and tell them to vote NO!

Contact Your Senators Here:  http://www.emailyoursenator.com/senators.html  Click on your Senators, Select the Contact Folder and then  click on the email address.

Contact Congresspeople: http://www.house.gov/zip/ZIP2Rep.html You’ll need your zip  code

THE MORTGAGE SCANDAL – HOW FEDS CREATED THE MORTGAGE MESS

By STAN LIEBOWITZ

February 5, 2008

PERHAPS the greatest scandal of the mortgage crisis is that it is a direct result of an intentional loosening of underwriting standards – done in the name of ending discrimination, despite warnings that it could lead to wide-scale defaults.

At the crisis’ core are loans that were made with virtually nonexistent underwriting standardsno verification of income or assets; little consideration of the applicant’s ability to make payments; no down payment.

Most people instinctively understand that such loans are likely to be unsound. But how did the heavily-regulated banking industry end up able to engage in such foolishness?

From the current hand-wringing, you’d think that the banks came up with the idea of looser underwriting standards on their own, with regulators just asleep on the job. In fact, it was the regulators who relaxed these standards – at the behest of community groups and “progressive” political forces.

In the 1980s, groups such as the activists at ACORN began pushing charges of “redlining” – claims that banks discriminated against minorities in mortgage lending. In 1989, sympathetic members of Congress got the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act amended to force banks to collect racial data on mortgage applicants; this allowed various studies to be ginned up that seemed to validate the original accusation.

In fact, minority mortgage applications were rejected more frequently than other applications – but the overwhelming reason wasn’t racial discrimination, but simply that minorities tend to have weaker finances.

Yet a “landmark” 1992 study from the Boston Fed concluded that mortgage-lending discrimination was systemic.

That study was tremendously flawed – a colleague and I later showed that the data it had used contained thousands of egregious typos, such as loans with negative interest rates. Our study found no evidence of discrimination.

Yet the political agenda triumphed – with the president of the Boston Fed saying no new studies were needed, and the US comptroller of the currency seconding the motion.

No sooner had the ink dried on its discrimination study than the Boston Fed, clearly speaking for the entire Fed, produced a manual for mortgage lenders stating that: “discrimination may be observed when a lender’s underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants.”

Some of these “outdated” criteria included the size of the mortgage payment relative to income, credit history, savings history and income verification. Instead, the Boston Fed ruled that participation in a credit-counseling program should be taken as evidence of an applicant’s ability to manage debt.

Sound crazy? You bet. Those “outdated” standards existed to limit defaults. But bank regulators required the loosened underwriting standards, with approval by politicians and the chattering class. A 1995 strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act required banks to find ways to provide mortgages to their poorer communities. It also let community activists intervene at yearly bank reviews, shaking the banks down for large pots of money.

Banks that got poor reviews were punished; some saw their merger plans frustrated; others faced direct legal challenges by the Justice Department.

Flexible lending programs expanded even though they had higher default rates than loans with traditional standards. On the Web, you can still find CRA loans available via ACORN with “100 percent financing . . . no credit scores . . . undocumented income . . . even if you don’t report it on your tax returns.” Credit counseling is required, of course.

Ironically, an enthusiastic Fannie Mae Foundation report singled out one paragon of nondiscriminatory lending, which worked with community activists and followed “the most flexible underwriting criteria permitted.That lender’s $1 billion commitment to low-income loans in 1992 had grown to $80 billion by 1999 and $600 billion by early 2003.

Who was that virtuous lender? Why – Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, recently in the headlines as it hurtled toward bankruptcy.

In an earlier newspaper story extolling the virtues of relaxed underwriting standards, Countrywide’s chief executive bragged that, to approve minority applications that would otherwise be rejected “lenders have had to stretch the rules a bit.” He’s not bragging now.

For years, rising house prices hid the default problems since quick refinances were possible. But now that house prices have stopped rising, we can clearly see the damage caused by relaxed lending standards.

This damage was quite predictable: “After the warm and fuzzy glow of ‘flexible underwriting standards’ has worn off, we may discover that they are nothing more than standards that lead to bad loans . . . these policies will have done a disservice to their putative beneficiaries if . . . they are dispossessed from their homes.” I wrote that, with Ted Day, in a 1998 academic article.

Sadly, we were spitting into the wind.

These days, everyone claims to favor strong lending standards. What about all those self-righteous newspapers, politicians and regulators who were intent on loosening lending standards?

As you might expect, they are now self-righteously blaming those, such as Countrywide, who did what they were told.

Stan Liebowitz is the Ashbel Smith professor of Economics in the Business School at the University of Texas at Dallas.

http://www.nypost.com/seven/02052008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/the_real_scandal_243911.htm?page=0

Accountability For The Subprime Crisis – Where were you Barney

Barney Frank Told Us So…Again.

By Jim Conley • Sep 6th, 2008 • Email This Post to a Friend •  Print This Post

Remember back in July when Rep. Barney Frank told the Boston Globe that the mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were “not in danger of going under.” And that, “their prospects going forward are very solid.”

Remember that?

Guess it depends on your definition of solid.  Because today it has been announced that the two companies will be placed under federal control.

Frank is chair of the House Financial Services Committee, and his comments in July were offered to shore up investor confidence in the two quasi-government agencies.  Now taxpayers get to pony up tens of billions in order that these companies might go forward, solidly one hopes.

You know, for someone who is quick to tell others how wrong they are [see this on the St. Aidan’s project], Frank’s tenure as chair of Financial Services has seen one disaster after another.

The log in one’s eye, and all that.

Update: Tomorrow’s Times has a story up on the federal takeover that features this:

“We have just had to nationalize the two largest financial institutions in the world because of policy makers’ inaction,” said Josh Rosner, an analyst at Graham Fisher, an independent research firm in New York, and a longtime critic of the government-sponsored enterprises. “Since 2003, when these companies’ accounting came under question, policy makers have done nothing. Even though they had every reason to know that the housing market’s problems would not be contained to subprime and would bring down the houses of Fannie and Freddie.”

Since 2003?  How could Frank be shoring up confidence in these firms when it was widely known that their accounting methods were suspect?

Well, it’s because those who finance his campaigns are the very industry his Committee is suppose to oversee.  And he thinks we’re chumps.

SEE THE VIDEO: Barney in his own words – Simply breathtaking.

Read Professor Stan Liebowitz’s Article On the History of The Crisis Here: http://www.nypost.com/seven/02052008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/the_real_scandal_243911.htm?page=0

Read Thomas DiLorenzo’s Article, “The CRA Scam and its defenders.” http://www.mises.org/story/2963

Obama Busted? $100,000 State Money to Campaign Aid – Chicago Sun Times VIDEO

CHICAGO SUN TIMES USES FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT TO OBTAIN DOCUMENTS

SEE THE INVESTIGATIVE VIDEO Visit the site – see the work that cost $100,000  http://www.suntimes.com/news/watchdogs/1184049,CST-NWS-watchdog25.article

Obama grant being probed

September 25, 2008

$100,000 DEAL | State to charity: What happened to garden money, other cash?

A $100,000 state grant for a botanic garden in Englewood that then-state Sen. Barack Obama awarded in 2001 to a group headed by a onetime campaign volunteer is now under investigation by the Illinois attorney general amid new questions, prompted by Chicago Sun-Times reports, about whether the money might have been misspent.

The garden was never built. And now state records obtained by the Sun-Times show $65,000 of the grant money went to the wife of Kenny B. Smith, the Obama 2000 congressional campaign volunteer who heads the Chicago Better Housing Association, which was in charge of the project for the blighted South Side neighborhood.

Smith wrote another $20,000 in grant-related checks to K.D. Contractors, a construction company that his wife, Karen D. Smith, created five months after work on the garden was supposed to have begun, records show. K.D. is no longer in business.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan — a Democrat who is supporting Obama’s presidential bid — is investigating “whether this charitable organization properly used its charitable assets, including the state funds it received,” Cara Smith, Madigan’s deputy chief of staff, said Wednesday.

In addition to the 2001 grant that Obama directed to the housing association as a “member initiative,” the not-for-profit group got a separate $20,000 state grant in 2006.

Madigan’s office has notified Obama’s presidential campaign of the probe, which was launched this week. But Obama’s actions in awarding the money are not a focus of the investigation, Smith said.

Questions about the grant, though, come as spending on local pet projects has become an issue in Obama’s campaign against John McCain.

Obama and Kenny Smith announced the “Englewood Botanic Garden Project” at a January 2000 news conference at Englewood High School. Obama was in the midst of a failed bid to oust South Side Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush for a seat in Congress. The garden — planned near and under L tracks between 59th Place and 62nd Place — fell outside of Obama’s Illinois Senate district but within the congressional district’s borders.

Obama vowed to “work tirelessly” to raise $1.1 million to help Smith’s organization turn the City of Chicago-owned lot into an oasis of trees and paths. But Obama lost the congressional race, no more money was raised, and today the garden site is a mess of weeds, chunks of concrete and garbage. The only noticeable improvement is a gazebo.

In a previous interview, Smith said the state grant money was legitimately spent, mostly on underground site preparation.

But no one ever took out construction permits required for such work, city records show. And a contractor who Smith said did most of the work told a reporter all he did was cut down trees and grade the site with a Bobcat.

Citing the garden’s failure to take root, NeighborSpace — an umbrella group for dozens of community gardens citywide — moved Sept. 9 to return the site to the city. Its action followed a July 11 Sun-Times report on the grant.

Obama spokesman Michael Ortiz said Wednesday the senator’s staff in Washington will monitor the Madigan probe and an additional review under way by Gov. Blagojevich’s administration to make sure “the taxpayer funds allocated for the construction of the garden are recuperated from CBHA if the agencies determine that the funds were not properly spent.” Obama’s goal is to ensure the site “be used in a way that benefits the community and that any taxpayer dollars allocated are spent wisely,” Ortiz said.

The relationship between Smith and Obama dates to at least 1997, when Obama wrote a letter that Smith used to help the housing association win city funding for an affordable-housing development near the garden site. Plans called for more than 50 homes; a dozen ultimately were built.

Smith also has donated $550 to Obama campaign funds.

The Sun-Times learned about Karen Smith’s involvement in the project through an Aug. 12 Freedom of Information Act response from a lawyer for Blagojevich¹s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The department, according to the lawyer, had ³discovered² 52 pages of ³additional documents² ommitted from an initial response in May to a Sun-Times¹ Freedom of Information Act request about the grant. 

Neither Smith nor his wife has been accused of any wrongdoing. Smith and his lawyer did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

In an interview in July, Smith said he was never able to raise the money needed for the garden. But the state grant awarded by Obama was spent properly, he said, on the underground work, with most of the work done by a contractor whose name Smith got wrong.

The Sun-Times tracked down the contractor, Rodolfo Marin, in Austin, Texas, where he now lives.

“What I was hired for was: Clean up the area and cut the trees — that’s all,” Marin said. He said he rented a Bobcat — a sort of small bulldozer — for the project.

And how much did Smith pay him? “If he spent about $3,000 with me, that was too much.”

%d bloggers like this: